Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Many creators are working with shady Instagram ‘dealers’ to boost their numbers.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The dealers place ads in artists’ Instagram groups
The creators of two of the most successful superhero teams on Instagram are helping hundreds of thousands of people to get their accounts back after being shut down.
Artist C-Day says she has paid $1,500 (£986) for the Instagram “sales team” to place advertising in the 30 groups she co-founded.
The UK-based illustrator said: “It was then we knew we were definitely going to have to go down the shady route.”
It turns out that shady Instagram dealers are one of the most widely used ways to get your account back on Instagram.
It is estimated that in recent months, 700,000 accounts have been shut down as a result of a combination of fake followers and aggressive purchases of Likes, ratings and comments.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption One Instagram account, page under Luke Baker’s , dropped 150,000 followers after it was shut down
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Some of the page’s remaining followers are now being targeted by a sale team
Nick Carr has been publishing illustrations on the popular graphic novels and graphic novel sites Of Mice and Men and McSweeney’s since 1995. His Instagram account, now called Ronnie’s Submarine, has 2.6 million followers, and in that time has been suspended around eight times.
After returning from a trip abroad in March, he tried to get his account back on Instagram and was shocked to find out that he had been banned.
For Mr Carr, the most frustrating part of this is that he was told the reason was because of a “late payment”.
“The other account I had down for 18 months, people would actually buy Likes and buy ratings for me. But that account was inactive. It was closed, but you can’t even tell that,” he said.
“I just had $3,000 on the line and I was like, ‘this is it. I’m going to drop dead.’ We were down $5,000 and then we went and found the people who were buying it.”
Photo credit: Richard Barley
For a time, he received thousands of retweets and likes from fans each day and had a huge fan base in China. But this all eventually came to an end when an account named The PewDiePie was banned from the site because of his post-Christmas spending spree.
After being locked out, Mr Carr made two calls to shady dealers on his account to get it back on Instagram. He said one had promised to get his account back to his original numbers, and another said he could “help me” and put up an ad for his ads.
However, a third dealer tried to get into a one-on-one meeting and after a few email exchanges the seller became suspicious that Mr Carr was just using the account to make money and asked him to send £28,000.
The agent says he had a meeting with Mr Carr in October 2018 but told him that was the first the artist had heard of the app. When the agent later learned that Mr Carr had gone into hiding in California, he said he was “devastated”.
It turns out that when there is a sudden surge in a number of followers, the most likely result is that a dealer or savvy sales agent has bought them up.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Instagram’s algorithm sometimes assumes that the person buying the users are the same account
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Analytics shows that the number of followers a user gets is often something to do with a dealer
According to David Allison from website Retail Behemoth, which measures the effectiveness of Instagram campaigns, account owners often keep the additional followers or friends and try to promote themselves in an apparent attempt to sell their account back on Instagram.
And in a recent study of 3,000 accounts on Instagram, it emerged that the number of followers continues to increase in stages over the course of the month, meaning the same followers can get more likes and comments.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Analysis shows the number of followers gets more likes and comments each day
While Mr Carr was unable to reach his account again, he is hopeful that a similar deal with another dealer will help to get his account back on Instagram.
For Mr Carr, putting this episode behind him and sharing his story could help other creators who find themselves in a similar situation.
“If they could bottle the humanity, just writing about this makes you feel better,” he said.
When told that this was the sort of story that could end badly, Mr Carr laughed